Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Emory Dance Company Choreographer Donalie Black

Photo courtesy of Donalie Black 

Learn more about Emory Dance Company (EDC) choreographer Donalie Black! She is presenting work at the spring concert this April 20-22, 2023.

Donalie Black is a senior double majoring in dance and art history with an arts management concentration through the Goizueta Business School. She is a lifelong dancer who was classically trained at Dancenter North in Libertyville, Illinois before honing her dance skills at Emory. While she has had some experience with choreography before, this is her first full-length modern dance piece. Being part of the Emory Dance Program has been the highlight of her college experience, and she would like to thank all the Emory dance professors for their guidance and support throughout college. While dance will always remain an integral part of her life in some capacity, next August, Donalie will be embarking on her first year of law school. 

Read on to learn about her choreographic inspiration and process. 

The creative process for this piece was inspired by my academic journey in art history; my jumping off point for generating movement was well-known works of art made by female artists which depict women in physical, mental, and abstract forms of pain or suffering. This visual input has taken me and my cast to really interesting creative places, as we have taken inspiration from the artists' meaning, development of the physical images, and the formal process. What we have been left with is movement that explores femininity and suffering. 
My choreographic process began with providing individuals, duets, and trios in my cast with a specific artwork as inspiration and some specific jumping off points or choreographic scores associated with the artwork. I then manipulated these initial inspirations, added core phrases for the group, and weaved the inspirations into a framework for the piece. 


I am most excited about the multitude of options when engaging with this process. It has been such a joy to manipulate movement, change intentions in different sections, and think about how adjusting technical elements (music, lighting, costumes) will change the way the audience experiences the work. As I am not finished with the work yet, I am excited to see where the process will take my dancers and me. Much like looking at a piece of visual art, I hope every observer will walk away having undergone something unique and idiosyncratic. I am so lucky to have a talented and dedicated cast that is able to aid in the choreographic process and bring my visions to life.  

Thank you Donalie! 

Purchase tickets for the EDC Spring 2023 Concert here. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Emory Dance Company Choreographer Esther Holmes

Photo Courtesy of Esther Holmes

Meet another one of our Emory Dance Company (EDC) choreographers presenting work at the spring concert this April 20-22, Esther Holmes!

Esther Holmes is a third year student studying psychology and dance and movement studies. From viewing and performing with the Emory Dance Company, her definition of dance has shifted and expanded. She was drawn to choreograph for EDC this semester to explore her unique movement style and create a more personal definition of dance. After graduating she hopes to attain her PhD in educational psychology and apply movement techniques to school-aged children with developmental disabilities. She believes that dance therapy is a strong resource to help children overcome difficulties in our social world.

Esther also choreographed and performed a solo work entitled "Sharp Circle", which was selected by a panel of adjudicators to perform at the final gala at the American College Dance Association (ACDA) Southeast Conference at Brenau University this past March. Congratulations Esther!

Read on to learn about her choreographic inspiration and process. 

I create movement from images and words that influence what is created, and that feel natural and comfortable in my body. I strive to create abstract and obscure movements that are not normally seen on stage. The dancers explore this idea as well, through abstract prompts to generate movement. I enjoy playing around with the movement created by messing it up, reordering it, changing the timing, or taking up different areas in space. 

I am playing with various emotional states and how these states of mind can motivate and influence what is created. I am also exploring ways of getting in and out of the ground through various movement techniques, and the transitions between these concepts. 

I am drawn to how the focus and facial expressions of the dancers completely change the motivation behind the movement, even when the physical steps are the same. I am excited about how each individual person has the potential to create their own interpretation by changing their face, so that there is never truly unison but rather different entities sharing the same space. 

I hope that the audience members will understand the importance of each individual's emotional state at every point of life and the diversity of thought they are constantly surrounded by. I hope the audience walks away with a broader understanding and appreciation of simply being, feeling, and sharing authentically with those around them, instead of simply saying they are “good.” 

Thank you Esther! 

Purchase tickets for the EDC Spring 2023 Concert here. 

Monday, March 20, 2023

An Interview with Friends of Dance Lecturer: Dr. Sarah Wilbur

Photo by: Troy Blendell

Article written by dance major Gabrielle Stearns

Sarah Wilbur, PhD, began her dance career learning moves from MTV music videos. Today, she’s an associate professor of dance at Duke University, choreographer, author, and dance scholar. Her first book, Funding Bodies, recounts the last 50 years of dance funding from the National Endowment of the Arts and how economic pressures have shaped dance in the United States. 

I spoke with Sarah about her career, research, and what’s in store for her upcoming Friends of Dance Lecture. Read on for that conversation and attend Sarah Wilbur’s lecture, Should I Dance for Free?, at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts Dance Studio on March 21, 2023.
Gabrielle Stearns: Tell us a little bit about the highlights of your dance career and how you ended up where you are now.
Sarah Wilbur: I was the kid who always danced around but didn't start formal dance training until college. What I do credit as my dance training from life are things like TV and movies and MTV. I did musicals, I love theater, and I knew doing art works and making theater with my friends introduced me to people I would never know otherwise, who I really was inspired by. Also in a geographically and racially segregated space, like Milwaukee, Wisconsin, encounters with cultural differences could be avoided, because of geography and things like that. So the arts were always the space of heterogeneity. Really great people find themselves together and I was really attracted to that. 
I didn't have any practical reason to go into the arts, but I stayed in Milwaukee for undergrad. I majored in dance and my twin brother majored in business, and he would just mock me on the way to school. We would drive together in a 1973 Dodge Dart we inherited from my aunt Roberta and he'd just make fun of me. He'd be like, “you majoring in dance is like me majoring in golf. I mean, I like it but come on.” And so there's a stubborn part of me that was like, oh, yeah, just you wait. And so there was no logical reason for me to major in dance. But I majored in dance in a BFA program that required no audition, which was cool for me. I dove in headfirst and thought, okay, this is amazing. I had a lot to learn, but I also didn't have as much to unlearn as people who had come through a conservatory or a heavy ballet background. It didn't really didn't matter if it was a tap routine, a musical, or a contemporary experimental performance art thing - I was in. I was all in.
Long story short, I got my BFA in 1996. And then there's a local nonprofit in Milwaukee called Danceworks. It's a 501C3, where you have multiple studios, multiple cultural traditions and dances represented, different age ranges, and a lot of different teachers and performers. I call it my trade school education. It was where I landed after college, and I was asked to corral my colleagues from the BFA program and create a dance collective. I didn't really know what I was doing. I was 22, but I had this gift of starting a dance collective with all the people I went to college with, and then teaching in the studio, teaching in schools, choreographing musicals, and zigzagging around for about ten years. 
After ten years of that, the burnout with nonprofit organizing was pretty high. My partner at the time was an actor and aspiring comedian and we had to decide to go to Los Angeles or New York for that work. We wound up going to Los Angeles and being there for ten years. L.A. is not a city, it’s like 157 little cities. And it's a syllabus for dance and every iteration you can imagine. So while we were there, I went to UCLA and I did the MFA in dance in the Department of World Arts and Cultures, which is a global studies approach to dance. And I think that's my approach now too. Fast forward into teaching and research and why I stay with academia is the privilege of time and space to move and think and process.
Gabrielle Stearns: Can you tell us a little more about what led you to dance academia?
Sarah Wilbur: I think universities and academia can't do everything, politically speaking, for dance. But I think that there's a part of me that was always attracted to how dance in the context of the university legitimized things that I was feeling. And what's so weird about that is I don't think I think the same way anymore. At least when I was 18 going into undergrad, the study of dance was my rational side. The dancing was also allowing me to have an experience of sociality, and emotion, and all those things. I liked coupling those together. 
Sometimes academic dance can feel very rational, square, and alienating to people. But I actually found that dancing out in the world was like this. Outside of the university, sometimes formal dance classes felt almost too disciplinary. A silence sets in because it’s a nonverbal form most of the time, but I think as a verbal person I always loved academia because then I could embrace all of it. I feel like in academia there is more permission to be both of those sides of yourself in a way that might be missing in other fields. You can feel your feelings but also your evidence and your claims. These things all come together.
Gabrielle Stearns: Your research focuses on economic incentives and institutionalized norms of art production. What drew you to those topics?
Sarah Wilbur: I was moving through so many different types of spaces in dance in my 20s and early 30s. I could move from teaching a dance class at Elm Creative Arts Elementary, to Golda Meir Middle School, to the Aurora Adult Day Health Senior Center. Inside each of these contexts, the language I used had to change and the strategies for getting folks to move were slightly different. I felt really resistant to this idea that there's a one size fits all approach to art and artistry. 
When I was doing my MFA at UCLA, I asked my mentor, Susan Foster, if anybody was writing about the history of institutional support for dance in the United States on the economic side of things. She said there are so many gaps in the knowledge base but here's a few people who've looked at it. And I said, well, doesn't that seem unethical that we're learning dance history, but we're never learning the economic history that allows things to present a certain way? I realized I love dancing, but everybody's writing about dancing. I had to ask how does money motivate movement. How do economic incentives like grants and funding recruit and reward a certain way of organizing oneself in dance at different historical periods? I didn't realize it but when I was in undergrad, I was being told and taught indirectly that I had to form a dance company with a regular ensemble that toured repertory dances to concert stages. That was the sort of seal of approval and the sort of endowed way of organizing in dance. I wanted to understand how my generation of artists who came into the field around the mid 1990s were taught by people who were 15 to 20 years older than them, who were in a very different economic moment. And how can we start to hold each other accountable for the way those conditions have changed? It’s a really different economic landscape. I guess I just wanted to be part of a generation of scholars who were practicing artists who said, we’ve got to slow down and revise our understanding of dance history to help future generations start to see how the systems that they work through are going to pull them in certain directions. And they have choices to make inside of that.
Gabrielle Stearns: Can you give us a preview of what you plan on discussing in your Friends of Dance Lecture?
Sarah Wilbur: I was invited to talk about the book I wrote and was published in 2021 called Funding  Bodies. It's a 50 year history of dance grant making at the National Endowment for the Arts. I do bring my historical slides and my conversation around the book with me, but I also want to hear about Atlanta. Because that's the next step, to become students of our own infrastructure. I ask how do you proceed with doing all of the non-dance labor that is required to be a dancer, like all the fundraising and looking for opportunities? And how do you look for a place where your interests will be allowed to flourish? There is a lot of assimilation in dance. Sometimes you take the gig because it's a gig. And maybe it's not totally what you do, but you learn how to fit into it. Or the worst thing is to take a gig that feels way outside of your wheelhouse and then you start to lose sense of your purpose. So I'm saying, let's find our life force and find our purpose. But you have to study a little bit of the mechanics of it to make that make sense.

Thank you Sarah and Gabrielle!

Attend our free Friends of Dance Lecture with Dr. Sarah Wilbur on March 21, 2023 at 7:30pm at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts Dance Studio. Pre-registration is not required.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Emory Dance Company Choreographer Henry Koskoff

Photo Courtesy of Henry Koskoff

The Emory Dance Company (EDC) spring concert is just over a month away! As we approach performances we’d like to introduce each of the six student choreographers who will present new original work. Their works are a culmination of the Choreography II course, led by Professor George Staib, where students learn about the different components of group choreography.  

First up in our series of features is Henry Koskoff! Henry is a senior, graduating in May with a degree in creative writing and dance. He has always harnessed a curiosity towards creation, and looks forward to sharing his choreography in a space where he has developed as a thoughtful mover and performer. He has participated in Emory Dance in some way every semester, whether it be on stage with EDC, on the executive board of AHANA Dance Club, or in his technique classes. Next year, he plans to build upon his collegiate platform by getting involved in arts administration, education, or whatever dance projects call his name. Read on to learn about his creative process.

My work revolves around femininity and its complications. The movement vocabulary draws inspiration from both film noir and the animal kingdom to defamiliarize assumed notions of sex and gender. The music for this piece is eclectic and expansive, so I’m excited to see how it will pair with moments of synchronicity and impulse amongst the dancers. I hope my work will invite and invigorate audiences. Parts of it will satisfy known indexes, while others will veer into uncanny territory. 

Thus far, my process has been entrenched in firmly-set choreography: tight unison, intricacy with intention, etc. This material derives from filmed improvisations, or the little routines I develop in my body every day. Soon I plan to explode into looser, more impulsive scores in order to find each dancer’s individual niche. 

Thank you Henry!

Monday, November 7, 2022

Emory Dance Company: Choreographer Julio Medina

Emory Dance Program Assistant Professor Julio Medina is creating a new work for Emory Dance Company. Read more about it below and see a video clip of a rehearsal. Make sure to get your tickets for the performances in advance by calling
404-727-5050 or visiting https://tickets.arts.emory.edu/2223edcfall.

Tlalli is the nahuatl word for earth, soil, the planet. Nahuatl is the indigenous language of the Mexica culture, often referred to as Aztec. The dancers have considered their relationship to the earth in this creative process. We explored themes of rebirth, death, labor, collectivity, and connection to the ground. The work is inspired by the story of Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent god) and the Five Suns, as well as Gloria Anzaldua's theoretical frameworks on feminism and mestizaje. The dancers employ contemporary floorwork and cumbia to create movement material for the work. This work is the first iteration and exploration of Medina's next project, which he hopes to premiere in Fall 2023.

Julio Medina EDC rehearsal 2022.MOV from Emory Dance Program on Vimeo.